As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are under an obligation to have a radically different perspective to living in these days. The mindless, milling, multitudes will not see what the lonely Amos of the 21st Century will be able to see—that is the Word of God—in the history of our day. Tekoa was a lonely place, but the man who lived there saw what others could not see. The man who stands for God in shaky times when civilizations quiver and when the underpinnings are in the process of giving way must have that different and lonely perspective.
The Person God Uses in Unsettled Times (v. 1)
The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. –Amos 1:1
What about the person God uses in unsettled times? This man looks beyond his own narrow and confining responsibilities. Isn’t it easy to just fulfill the responsibilities on your plate, then desire to go home and relax? Jesus asked us to go the extra mile, though (cf. Matt 5:41). Notice that Amos was among the shepherds of Tekoa. Further in the book, we learn that Amos was a keeper of an ugly, black-wooled, stumpy-legged, ill-born-faced sheep called the Makah. They were said to be ugly domestic beasts. And yet they were prized for their sleek and raven-colored wool.
We’re told that the life of a shepherd is a hereditary life.[i] From father to son, in Amos’ family, the narrow, restricting, confining occupation of keeping the Makah—the ugly, ill-formed, stunted sheep had been passed from father, to son, to grandson. With such a perspective, Amos might have been like the common lot of men. He may have never looked higher than the scrub brush that grew around his feet in the slim breezing that was the pastureland of Tekoa.
**Since Amos was willing to look up and risk his own responsibility, he ceased to protect sheep, and instead became the spiritual shepherd of an entire nation.**
We can learn what it is to see the Word of God and to speak for the Word of God as we understand that any man who so does must lift himself up from the comfortable tasks in his home town and give himself to the madness of a mess of a world that is crying out the judgment of God. An encounter with Amos, and I’ve encountered him several times in this book, always leads me to a time of discomfort.
It raises me to ask the same question that Pierre Berton, a Canadian journalist asked: “Am I simply an occupant of the comfortable pew?”[ii] How often do we ignore God by staying enclosed in the narrow, confining, restricted orb of our immediate, mundane, and trivial responsibilities? Necessary though they may be, we never look up from the scrub brush at our feet and see the Word of God in our generation.
What kind of person does God use in unsettled times? God uses a person with a different, lonely perspective. God uses a person who looks up from the confines of immediate preoccupation and responsibility. But in another sense, He uses any person who will make himself available to be used by God.
Have you ever done a profile of the prophets? When you and I ask ourselves, ordained or unordained, laity or clergy, whatever we may call ourselves, “Can God use me?” Nothing is more salutary than for us to look at the prophets.
We find a man of aristocratic heritage like Isaiah. He always walked with confidence. When apprehended by the Lord, he said, “Here am I. Send me.” He seemed to often walk with positive strength and accomplishment. He was a statesman in the midst of kings. He was a poet and a literary genius. And God used Isaiah.
However, God also used Jeremiah. A man who was so timid and uncertain in the aftermath of god’s apprehending him that he said “I am but a stammering youth” (Jer 5:15). He was a man who became depressed to the point of suicide so that he cried out “cursed be the man that brought the news of my birth” (Jer 20:15). He was a man who accused the very God who called him and promised Jeremiah he would be an unfailing stream of having become a delusive God who had held His prophet like a locust on the end of a string, jerking it just to see his wings fall.
Also, God can use a Hosea. He was not a statesman like Isaiah, nor was he a pathological like Jeremiah. He was a man into whose very heart and home there came the brokenness that terrifies and the redemptive love that heals.
You and Me
I find a great deal of reluctance to really, internally, viscerally, at the innermost level believe that God could use me. But if He could use an Isaiah, if He could use a Jeremiah, if He could use a Hosea, and yes if He could use the keeper of ugly, stunted, ill-formed sheep, who had known nothing but the smallness of Tekoa, then surely He could use you and He can use me.
[i] William Smith, Dictionary of the Bible (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1897), 2,990.
[ii] Pierre Berton, The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment in the New Age (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965).